Finnish duo JP Ahonen and KP Alare crafted a visually stunning ode to metal music in their graphic novel Sing No Evil. Personally, metal isn’t a genre I spend much time in, but that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying the art and story.
Taking center stage is the band Perkeros, led by Aksel, who makes questionable life choices like using student loan money to skip classes and buy sound equipment. While his guitar playing might border on the magical, his stuttering vocals “sound like a crow with pharyngeal plague.” And then there’s Lily, keyboardist and designer who is devoted to improving the band regardless of the blow to Aksel’s ego. To this end, she invites Aydin, pizza delivery guy with mind-blowing vocals. Say hello to character conflict, everybody! And there’s no forgetting Kervinen, janitor, bass guitarist, and hippie a whole lot older than people give him credit for. Finally, Bear plays the drums. He is literally a bear. One of the other bands has a badger. This is never commented on. It might be a cultural thing, or it could just be a quirky addition to the world. Maybe Ahonen and Alare were tired of people and wanted to draw something different. My interest over Bear also cemented my decision to buy the graphic novel, so maybe it was a bizarre marketing tactic. Whatever the case, I appreciated him.
In reductionist form, Sing No Evil features Perkeros struggling to pull together, musically and as a cohesive team, to land a spot in Rocktoberfest and hopefully develop a following. Their personal struggles are compounded by ancient music unleashing evil from the Dark Ages that tries really hard to kill them via the hands of an opposing band. Cue battle of the bands.
Expanded, Sing No Evil is about the power of music collectively, not just the metal played by the comic’s bands. It is about how music can caress the soul and spark the mind, even induce change on a visceral, arguably physical level. The imagery reflecting this power is balanced between the divine (images of ascension) and the horrifying. Tonally, the narrative fittingly features some low-key horror vibes that gradually crescendo up until the climax.
The work also falls into the tradition of coming-of-age stories, full of self-discovery and compromise. There’s a certain conflict between the desire to chase down dreams and the urge to resist change that serves as a subtle refrain throughout the plot. As someone who also regularly used student loan money for non-academic purposes and is now engaged in the battle of smarts vs. heart (financial responsibility vs pursuing career goals, etc.), such narratives always resonate.
The one (possibly) big disappointment (SPOILER SPOILER) is that the mind-bending musical battle of the bands you just know in your gut is coming, with the fate of some small pocket of humanity in the balance, is ultimately a non-musical brawl in the woods between the two bands. At first, this decision seemed a glaringly huge missed opportunity, but the themes of the work are a mixture of the epic and the personal. Music is portrayed as this epic, dangerous entity; to use it without full understanding would be folly. Meanwhile, the feud between the two groups is personal, resting on character relationships. It subverts expectation in the service of character resolution, which is a decision I can get behind.