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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Composer Jean Sibelius wrote music in the early 20th century that reflected Finland's struggle for independence from Russia. And Sibelius remains the country's most famous musical figure. Since his time, the country has grown into a progressive, cutting-edge, technological society. And some restless Finns are breaking onto their country's music scene with experimental sounds.

Music critic Chris Nickson has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HARD ROCK HALLELUJAH")

LORDI: (Singing) Hard rock hallelujah. Hard rock hallelujah.

CHRIS NICKSON: Four men in monster masks and bizarre costumes playing heavy metal music and winning Europe's biggest pop competition might seem bizarre, but it happened in 2006.

That song, "Hard Rock Hallelujah," by Lordi scooped the Eurovision Song Contest for Finland. But it's not quite as strange as it seems. Hard rock and heavy metal have been Finland's most successful musical exports in recent years. From Hanoi Rocks in the 1980s to Children of Bodom, HIM and the cello-driven Apocalyptica, Finnish metal has made an international name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NICKSON: But Finland is a country that likes rock in all its forms, as the charts reflect, although the bands do sing in the international language of English. The trio of 22-Pistepirkko are the perfect example.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PISTEPIRKKO: (Singing) Seen walking down this seedy town, (unintelligible) man in the moon...

NICKSON: They've been fixtures on the Finnish music scene for 25 years, consistently on the charts with an open, slightly psychedelic sound that ultimately doesn't fall into any camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PISTEPIRKKO: (Singing) (unintelligible) sister, bring out your (unintelligible). Hey, sister, go sister, (unintelligible)...

NICKSON: But it's not just older bands who think outside the box. Younger artists too are merging rock with other styles. The curiously named, four- member Don Johnson Big Band played mix and match with several genres. They moved from dub to country on their self-titled, platinum-selling album, platinum in Finland being 30,000 copies. On "Road" they've hit on an interesting, melodic fusion of rock and hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF "ROAD")

DON JOHNSON BIG BAND: (Singing) (unintelligible) on the road. (unintelligible). Key in the ignition, headlights rising, playing with the (unintelligible) but the rhythm is random. I set the (unintelligible) with a hand on the wheel but I'm still unable to (unintelligible) by the memories I only remember to forget like a radio or cinema, like a flash and (unintelligible). You could see without...

NICKSON: That kind of quirkiness is quite typical of Finnish music. It was already there back in the 1970s when the country produced a widely respected crop of progressive rock musicians. Among the leaders of the pack were Wigwam, fronted by Irish singer and keyboard player Jim Pembroke. He laced their music with a heavy dose of good humor to complement the intricate musicianship, but could never move beyond cult status internationally.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JIM PEMBROKE: (Singing) (unintelligible)...

NICKSON: Wigwam still perform and record, so does their former bass player, Pekka Pohjola, although these days, he's found a home in the country's growing jazz scene. So has his son, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola who is part of the Ilmiliekki Quartet. Like many others in Finnish jazz, the band uses the music as a jumping-off point into experimentation that can range from the raucous to the moodily introspective.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NICKSON: Finnish heavy metal has a global reputation. But more recently, Finnish folk music has been snapping in its heels on the international stage. In part, credit must go to the folk music program at the Sibelius Academy. For more than 20 years, it's allowed a couple of generations of young musicians to develop and hone their skills. Beyond any doubt, the brightest stars to emerge from the Finnish folk scene are the female-led Varttina.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VARTTINA: (Singing in Finnish)

NICKSON: Varttina have grown from naive teenagers singing regional music into a skilled, groundbreaking outfit. And they've been unafraid to play with their keening vocal sound and take it in unexpected directions. Most recently, they composed the music for the extravaganza stage musical version of "Lord of the Rings." And they're not the only act to make inroads outside their homeland. Wimme, a member of the nomadic Sami or Lapp people, has made an art form of their joik singing style.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WIMME: (Singing in Finnish)

NICKSON: Traditionally sung unaccompanied, joiks are small, impressionistic songs intended to convey the essence of a place or a person. Wimme has revolutionized the style by blending the joik with electronic soundscapes, making it accessible to a much wider audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WIMME: (Singing in Finnish)

NICKSON: If there's a single thread running through Finnish music, it's the willingness to subvert the norms. Whether it's the comic book theatricality of Lordi or the iconoclasm of Wimme, artists move naturally and easily outside established frameworks. In this relentless experimentation, they take the past and push it very firmly towards the future.

BLOCK: Our music critic is Chris Nickson. You can find a list of the Finnish band mentioned and more music from around the world at npr.org/music.

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