[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
TRACK LIST: 1. Uneton Enkeli 5:00 2. Luovun 2:58 3. Renee 4:24 4. Don Juan 2:41 5. Yon Hiljaisuus 4:46 6. Tuulisina Paivina 8:34 7. Vieraat 12:10 LINEUP: Aapo Helenius – guitar, bass; drums; Mellotron Ismo Virta – Mellotron; glockenspiel Paivi Kylmanen – vocals; guitar Kari Vainionpaa – guitar, bass Kimmo Lahteenmaki – drums Olli Valtonen – shruti box With: Pauliina Isomaki – bassoon; recorder Jukka Aaltonen – violin Juha Kulmala – reading
Prolusion. Hailing from Turku, Finland, KOSMOS have been active since the mid-2000s. Their debut album, “Tarinoita Voimasta”, was released in 2005, followed by “Polku” in 2007; “Vieraan Taivaan Alla” is their third album. Singer Paivi Kylmanen and drummer/keyboardist Kimmo Lahteenmaki are also members of Viima (also based in Turku), the latter appearing on both the band’s albums.
Analysis. In spite of its relative isolation in the far northern reaches of the European continent, Finland possesses one of the most lively musical scenes in the world, and the average level of quality of its bands and artists is astonishingly high. One of the most remarkable sectors of excellence for Finnish music is folk, which is not surprising, seen the importance that folklore had in the formation of a literary and artistic tradition of a country that, its humble beginnings notwithstanding, scores very highly in any worldwide statistic on culture and education. Kosmos draw on both the rich heritage of folk music of their homeland, as well as on its more recent, but equally interesting, exploits in the field of progressive rock. Not as edgy o dramatic as the best-known Finnish modern folk band, Varttina, their sound is rather characterised by the pervasive melancholy often associated with the whole of Scandinavia, drawing comparisons with bands from west of the Baltic Sea. As a matter of fact, Kosmos’ home town of Turku, the oldest city and former capital of Finland, is still to this day one of the strongholds of Finnish-Swedish culture, keeping therefore strong ties to the Swedish ‘motherland’. In time-honoured prog-folk tradition, European and otherwise, Kosmos employ a female lead vocalist. Paivi Kylmanen’s wistful, crystalline tones perfectly complement the band’s largely acoustic, flawlessly executed music, without ever descending into the cloying sweetness of many of the singers fronting modern prog bands. The first time I heard “Vieraan Taivaan Alla”, I was immediately reminded of American folk-proggers Espers, a band that, in spite of their New World origins, are very much influenced by European folk. Like Espers, Kosmos use electric instruments as a complement and spice to the acoustic and ethnic ones. Paivi Kylmanen’s voice conveys the same haunting delicacy as Espers’ Meg Baird, further enhanced by the uncanny beauty of the Finnish language – a language that, until the early 19th century, had a mainly oral cultural tradition. It is interesting to note that Finnish shares some of the features that make Italian an almost ideal vehicle for singing – particularly the abundance of vowel sounds. Right from the title (meaning “Beneath a Strange Sky”), the scene is set for an album that, as a fellow reviewer put it, often feels like balm for a wounded soul – though without ever descending into mawkish sentimentality. The song titles themselves evoke a romantic, melancholy feel, and that sense of communion with nature that is part and parcel of the Scandinavian character. The endearingly na?ve cover artwork reinforces the overall impression of the album, which is interestingly divided in two halves. The first five songs, in fact, are mostly acoustic, though amply laced with the sound of the most iconic of prog instruments, the Mellotron. The final two songs, on the other hand, decidedly veer into psychedelic-tinged prog territory, especially the album’s ‘epic’, the almost 13-minute Vieraat (Guests). Faint mellotron washes introduce Uneton Enkeli (Sleepless Angel), followed by mellow, melancholy acoustic guitar chords accompanying Paivi’s pure vocals. Though the structure of the song is quite simple, alternating a mainly acoustic verse with a more dynamic chorus, it is nonetheless a very charming piece. Luovun (I Give Up), built along similar lines, though a bit more lively, features a flute solo in the second half, and in Renee the melancholy, autumnal sound of the violin blends with Mellotron and acoustic guitar. In contrast with this trio of distinctly low-key items, Don Juan is a delightful ditty punctuated by the almost humorous sound of the bassoon, depicting the titular character’s seduction strategy; while Yon Hiljaisuus (The Silence of the Night) closes the first half of the album much in the same vein as the first three songs. In some ways, Tuulisina Paivina (On Windy Days) acts as a bridge between the folksy, acoustic first half, and the decidedly experimental nature of the closing track. Paivi’s vocals gain in intensity and lyricism, while the drums get pushed to the forefront, and electronic keyboard effects create a spacey atmosphere meshing effectively with the steady waves of the Mellotron. The song’s structure is also more diverse than the previous ones, and the psychedelic feel in its central part (reinforced by something that sounds positively like a sitar, even if not listed in the liner notes) provides a foretaste of what is to follow. Vieraat opens (and closes) with the deep, soothing voice of a hypnotist, introduced by a droning sound interspersed by the occasional tinkle of a glockenspiel – then, after a brief pause, the song develops in a full-tilt, psychedelic tour-de-force, complete with heavy riffing, distorted guitar soloing, and strident violin strains, all backed by the omnipresent Mellotron. The song can indeed bring to mind a folk-tinged version of Hawkwind, with Paivi’s voice much less ethereal, more assertive in tone, and the vague Eastern feel that is often associated with psychedelic rock. “Vieraan Taivaan Alla” is a very pleasing, well-crafted album, and a very moving one. The final two tracks, which point to possible interesting developments in the band’s sound, should also satisfy those who need their electricity fix, as well as displaying the versatility of an accomplished band.
Conclusion. Those who love gentle, soothing music accompanied by clear female vocals, and do not object to lyrics in ‘exotic’ languages, will find a lot to appreciate in “Vieraan Taivaan Alla”. This is one of those efforts that can be fully enjoyed without risking any musical overload, due to its more than manageable running time (slightly under 40 minutes) - certainly a welcome break from the modern trend towards interminable albums.
[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS - LIST | BANDLISTS ]