Tens of thousands of Finns packed Helsinki's central market square to hear their new national heroes, monster hard-rockers Lordi, performed for the first time in public since a stunning victory at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Deafening roars and screams filled the light, cold Nordic evening when the group appeared on stage after four warmup bands. Waving Finnish flags, the carnival-mood crowd bounced in tune to Lordi's winning song, "Hard Rock Hallelujah."
"Finnish quality work," President Tarja Halonen said, after awarding a large bronze key for promoting Finnish music to the five-member group dressed in monster costume.
Police blocked roads and helicopters hovered overhead, clouded by the smoke of Lordi's pyrotechnic show.
The monsters, who have become a colossal source of pride for the small northern European nation accustomed to coming last in the competition, performed four songs to a police estimate of 80,000 people during the four-hour celebration, partly broadcast live on national TV.
"I don't care for rock, especially heavy rock, but I'm so proud of the fact that Finland won the contest," said Anni Markkanen, 52, who had traveled from Oulu, 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Helsinki. "I just had to come to this party."
The band has been daily front-page tabloid news, found numerous new followers and their latest album "The Arockalypse" is expected to reach platinum sales of 30,000 in Finland next week, Sony BMG Music Entertainment Finland Oy said.
Many had feared that the hideous monster band complete with bloody gashes, protruding horns and war axes would tarnish Finland's image abroad. But now the media and officials openly describe the group as heroes, and even skeptic journalists apologized for not believing in their success.
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, a hard-rock fan, said Lordi had made Finnish music known worldwide and promised government aid to finance next year's competition, which Finland will host as reigning champion.
Lordi maintains a veneer of mystery and never performs without their costumes, and has asked the media "not to destroy our work, our image" by publishing pictures of them without their masks, reports AP.
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