A five-year-old girl in pigtails is typical of hardcore following of Hevisaurus, a metal band that has hooked the kiddie crowd in Finland.
The group, which rocks on about homework and monsters, played its first gig, a charity event, only last September but its fan base of mainly five-to-seven-year-olds has grown rapidly.
AdvertisementThe band was born when a flash of lightning and witches' spells revealed, cracked and brought to life five metal dinosaur eggs buried deep in a mountain 65 million years ago -- around the time most other dinosaurs became extinct.
Or so goes the "official" creation story of the long-haired reptiles in spiked bracelets and black leather billed as the world's only Jurassic metal band.
In reality, the idea hatched in the mind of drummer Mirka Rantanen, 38, a veteran "headbanger" who has played with numerous bands including the Finnish power metal group Thunderstone.
"For years and years you seriously try, and then you toss up this one crazy idea, and everyone gets excited," said a bemused Rantanen in an interview.
It all started a few years ago when Rantanen attended a children's concert with his own kids, now five and 11.
"What if I started making music for kids?" he thought. "What if it was heavy metal, since that's what I've been doing for 25 years?"
Rantanen began writing lyrics and, with some friends from the metalhead circuit, began composing and recording.
He also started envisioning the characters in the band.
"I'm a kind of 1980s relic. You could call me a dinosaur," said Rantanen, now better known as an Apatosaurus called Komppi Momppi.
"Long-haired dinosaurs playing heavy metal -- it started to sound like a really good idea."
Sony Music agreed, and so have the Finnish children and parents who flock to sold-out concert halls and kept Hevisaurus' first album "Jurahevin kuninkaat", or Kings of Jurassic Metal, on Finland's album chart for 10 weeks.
"It's the best because it's heavy," said five-year-old Rico, who attended a packed concert in the southern city of Haemeenlinna wearing a Hevisaurus sweater and hat, and waving a Hevisaurus flag made by his dad.
His six-year-old cousin Iina listens to Hevisaurus daily. Her favorite is the group's vocalist Mr. Hevisaurus, a meat-chomping descendant of Tyrannosaurus Rex, who "sings so well".
The youngest fan at Haemeenlinna was a two-month-old baby who wore protective earmuffs and slept through the show which, like all of Hevisaurus' gigs, was played live at child-friendly decibel levels.
Part of Hevisaurus' appeal is the popularity of metal music in Finland. The niche genre has gone mainstream here -- even played in churches -- notably since the Nordic country collected its only Eurovision Song Contest win in 2006 with Lordi's monster heavy metal song "Hard Rock Hallelujah".
"Lordi brought heavy metal to living rooms. We brought it to children's rooms," said Rantanen, asking "is it this bleakness that we live in, this darkness" that attracts Finns to heavy metal?
Hevisaurus' lyrics, however, are anything but bleak.
They focus on adventure and fun. When homework and school get tiring, it is time to find excitement by calling up the moon, flying on a dragon's back or laughing with the "Rupu-Rupu" monster, who "smells like an unwashed potty".
No short-cuts were taken in creating the band. The five elaborate costumes, for example, were made of reindeer skin dyed green and treated to look scaly in a process that took four months and cost 18,000 euros (24,000 dollars).
Hevisaurus' second album is due out in September or October, and before that the group is to star in a heavy metal musical at the Linnanmaeki amusement park in Helsinki.
The concept has sparked interest abroad and a group in Hungary is set to create a Hungarian-language album of the hard rocking dinos, in a licensing deal with Hevisaurus.
Asked if any angry parents had accused him of corrupting their youngsters with "devil worship music" -- a notion sometimes associated with heavy metal -- Rantanen conceded he himself was surprised but "no".
Still, the band is not without opponents. Many teenagers -- possessive of the rebellious, amplified brute force of music often associated with machismo -- have been quick to say Rantanen has ruined heavy metal by bringing it to young children, accusing him of co-opting the genre to make money.
Rantanen brushes this off, saying he is touched by the genuine emotion of the tiny fans who sometimes take a while to build up the courage to approach the dinosaur rockers for autographs or a hug after concerts.
"This is a project from the heart," Rantanen said. "Now that I've seen what it's like to perform for kids, I wouldn't give it up for anything."
For a video of the group, see their website: www.hevisaurus.com.
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