Life is good for Lordi.

The empire is strong and the franchise is booming. With his stomach full from a multi-course meal at Lordi's Rocktaurant in Rovaniemi, Finland, frontman Tomi Petteri Putaansuu — a.k.a. "Mr. Lordi" — picked up the phone to spread the gospel of his band to North America.

"It's a cool thing to have your own restaurant," he said as he prepared for dessert. "You can taste a little of everything on the menu and not worry about missing anything."

If he had wanted to, Putaansuu could have washed down his meal with a bottle or two of Lordi Cola, but he ordered Pepsi because the restaurant doesn't have the Lordi drink on tap — yet. And, if he had to pay for the sumptuous meal, he could have used a Lordi credit card. Fortunately he owns the restaurant. Even more fortunately, he doesn't have an active credit card.

"That would actually ruin me to bankruptcy," he said. "It would lead me to order Kiss artifacts from the 'Net. I'm a big collector of these things, and to this day I'm the president of the Kiss Army in Finland."

It goes without saying that without Kiss, Lordi — Putaansuu, guitarist Jussi Sydänmaa ("Amen"), bassist Samer el Nahhal ("Ox"), keyboardist Leena Peisa ("Awa") and drummer Sampsa Astala ("Kita") — wouldn't exist. Like Putaansuu's heroes, Lordi wear makeup and costumes, play anthemic melodic metal and believe strongly in branding. And like Kiss, Lordi are huge. Sure, they're still relatively unknown in North America, but their 2006 album, The Arockalypse — which comes out on these shores March 20 — is triple-platinum in Finland and nearly as huge across the rest of Europe.

But there's a major difference between Lordi and Kiss. While Kiss' image stems from cartoons and comic books, Lordi's comes straight from horror movies, which has drawn them comparisons to Gwar. "I am not offended, but I didn't know [about] Gwar until people in Germany asked me about them in interviews," Putaansuu said. "They are so obscure in Europe that it's easy to miss them. I was much more influenced by people like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface and Pinhead and the Cenobites from 'Hellraiser.' I have always been fascinated with monsters and learned to do prosthetic makeup when I was 10 years old."

Putaansuu started Lordi in 1992 as a one-man project and released the band's first demo. Three years later, he recruited friends from the Kiss Army and wrote songs that blended the simplicity of Kiss, the edge of W.A.S.P. and the drive of Accept. Numerous label auditions fell on deaf ears before Lordi were signed in 2002 and released their debut, Get Heavy. They followed two years later with The Monsterican Dream, but Lordi remained an underground phenomenon until last year, when they were contacted by staffers at the pop-music Eurovision Song Contest to represent Finland.

"It's a really kitschy competition, and there was no way in hell any band in Europe would join if they wanted to take themselves seriously," Putaansuu said of the event that launched his band's mainstream career. "But at the time, we had nothing to lose because we were kind of marginal. Metal people thought we were too melodic and mainstream audiences thought we would come and burn their churches."

Lordi played the stomping "Hard Rock Hallelujah" on the televised program and swept the semifinals with 42 percent of the total vote for 12 different contestants, many of whom played Finnish folk music or pop. Then, in January 2006, Lordi competed at the finals. "We felt so out of place there," Putaansuu said. "It was like if Bob Dylan went to a black-metal festival. But all the hard-rock people and metal people came out of the woodwork and voted for us and we won with the highest-ever points in Eurovision history."

The victory propelled Lordi to stardom and piqued the interest of former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin, who linked up with the band. Lordi will make their U.S. debut May 5-6 at the Bamboozle festival in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A full U.S. tour is also being planned.

"I don't know if we'll have the same success in the States, but we'd like to," Putaansuu said. "All of our influences come from the States — metal and movie culture. So it would be a great way of saying we have arrived."

The rest of the week's metal news:

The dates have been revealed for the upcoming Jägermeister Music Tour featuring Stone Sour, Lacuna Coil and Shadows Fall. The tour kicks off March 23 in Maplewood, Minnesota, and is scheduled to hit Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta before wrapping up May 4 in West Des Moines, Iowa. ... Sevendust and Killswitch Engage have been tapped to headline the Red, Black and Blue Festival, which will take place February 22 at the Glens Falls Civic Center in Glens Falls, New York. Joining them on the bill will be DragonForce, Chimaira and Diecast. ... Caliban are entering the studio this week to begin working on their forthcoming LP From Sorrow to Serenity with producer Benny Richter. The disc is slated for release this summer. ...

Frontman Nick Brooks has skipped out on It Dies Today and been replaced by Jason Wood of the Orphan. "The last six years have been incredible and I've seen and done more things than I ever thought were possible with this band," Brooks said in a statement. "I also met so many amazing people along the way and I want to thank all of the fans for being so supportive. ... I've decided to leave the band because that is what is best for everyone at the moment. I will miss everyone, but be sure that you will be hearing from me again. I have a new band called Queen City Station and we should be recording sometime this spring." ... According to drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, the forthcoming self-titled album from his new band Hellyeah — which features current members of Mudvayne and erstwhile members of Nothingface — "is the best record I've collaborated on since [Pantera's 1992 LP] Vulgar Display of Power. The vibe is 'positive with a kick-your-ass-attitude.' The incredible music we've created [has] brought me back to what I love." The disc is slated for release April 10. ...

Through the Eyes of the Dead have decided on Malice as the title for their upcoming sophomore LP, the follow-up to 2005's Bloodlust. The album is being produced by Hate Eternal's Erik Rutan (Goatwhore, the Absence) and recording will get under way February 16. The band plans to have the effort in the bag by March 15. ... Metal extremists Vital Remains have finished recording their forthcoming album with said producer Rutan. It is the group's second LP with Deicide's Glen Benton on vocals and will be in stores April 3. ... Swedish metallers Carnal Forge have signed with Candlelight Records, and new material from the band is expected to land in stores later this year. Carnal Forge had previously released several albums through Century Media Records, including their most recent, 2004's Aren't You Dead Yet? ...

Drummer Eric Schnee has left Nebraska metal outfit Paria and returned to his native New Jersey to revive his former band the Binding. "After a year or so of being away from the band, we have decided that it is time to resurrect this beast again and continue with what we started," Schnee explained in a statement. "We will be touring this coming summer, promoting our now critically acclaimed self-titled EP starting in late June and going until July. I can't even begin to express how excited we are." ... Naglfar's next album Harvest will see release March 13. The effort will contain nine tracks in all, including "Into the Black," "The Mirrors of My Soul" and "Feeding Moloch." ...

Swiss mathcore conjurers Knut are down a guitarist following the departure of Jeremy (just Jeremy), who has split to focus his energies on Mumakil, a grind side project. "This marks the end of an eight-plus-year partnership and a big letdown considering the atmosphere that prevailed within the band and the amount of enthusiasm towards our latest performances," the band expressed in a statement. "We can't help thinking that the best Knut lineup is history. What the future holds for Knut after 12 years of incredibly fulfilling activity, and what might be one too many changes in its shape and form, remains to be determined." ... Obituary, Atheist and Repulsion have been confirmed for the Los Angeles Murderfest Version 3.0, which is set for March 24-25 at the Knitting Factory Hollywood. Also on the festival's bill are Kylesa, Genghis Tron, Brutal Truth, Pig Destroyer and Cretin. ...

Machinemade God have lost guitarist Holger Kiparski but didn't' waste any time finding his replacement, as they've added Marc Niedersberg to the fold. "With this new and strong lineup, we're hitting the road in February for a short headlining tour together with our friends in Deadsoil and Koroded," read a statement from the band. Machinemade God plan to hit the studio in March to begin tracking their second album. ... Thrash titans Byzantine will issue Oblivion Beckons in July. The LP will boast a dozen tracks, as well as note-for-note guitar transcriptions with standard musical notations and guitar tablatures. Byzantine will head out on the Chains of Humanity tour with God Forbid, Goatwhore, Mnemic and Arsis starting January 31 in Houston. In related news, Arsis have parted company with drummer Mike Van Dyne, replacing him with Darren Cesca of Burn in Silence and Goratory note. ...

Suicide City, which features former Biohazard lynchpin Billy Graziadei and former Kittie bassist Jennifer Arroyo, began tracking their forthcoming full-length earlier this month. The effort should be out this spring. "The new material is taking Suicide City to the next level, and we can't wait to share it all with you," the band said in a statement. ... Norwegian black-metal legends Emperor will return to the U.S. for three shows this spring. The band played four Stateside gigs last summer, all before sell-out crowds. "The shows last summer were very successful and we had an amazing turnout and support from all the fans," the band said in a statement. "We feel a few more shows are due and this time, all visas are in order and the band will appear in its full command." Emperor will storm Chicago on May 30, hit New York on June 1 and plays West Hollywood, California, on June 3.