1. Koskella (3:50)
2. Isätön Poika (5:03)
3. Valonvaltiatar (4:59)
4. Lintunen (4:10)
5. Kaihomieli (3:45)
6. Suolla (4:17)
7. Aihetta Lauluun (4:22)
8. Pohjalainen Pitkä Poika (3:57)
9. Oivallus (3:49)
10. Virran Mukana (5:24)
Petri Koivistoinen – guitars, kantele, bass (9), all kinds of gadgets
Nina Hiironniemi – vocals
Mika Hiironniemi – drums, percussion & thingies, keyboards (3, 10)
Pate Laitinen – bass
Janne Haka-Risku – keyboards
This will be the first of a trio of reviews dedicated to new bands from Finland – a country that, in spite of its relative isolation in geographical terms, has earned a place of its own on the contemporary music scene. Though the country is often associated with metal – both of the power/symphonic and the extreme variety – the Land of a Thousand Lakes enjoys a thriving, variegated progressive rock scene, and a very high rate of musical activity (not to mention excellent educational standards) for a population of slightly over 5 million. As I mentioned last year when reviewing Tuvalu’s debut album, I always welcome the opportunity to listen to some new music coming from Finland, on account of my close personal connection with the country. Therefore, once again I thank my good friend, Helsinki-based artist Eetu Pellonpää, for exposing me to some of the bands whose recordings are graced by his distinctive artwork.
Hiidensointi (whose name, meaning “The Voice of Hiisi”, references a nature deity of the ancient Finnish religion) are a quintet based in the thriving city of Tampere, where they were formed in 2007 by guitarist Petri Kivistoinen and drummer Mika Hiironniemi. After the 2010 release of their self-titled debut, the band underwent a line-up change, with keyboardist Janne Haka-Risku leaving the band to be replaced by violinist Petri Ahonen. They also started work on their second album (which should be released some time in 2012), all the while keeping up with their busy performance schedule around the Tampere region.
Though barely known outside Finland, the members of Hiidensointi (as is very often the case with artists from northern Europe) are very accomplished instrumentalists, with a solid background and plenty of experience. While they call themselves “folk-oriented progressive rock”, their debut album, rather than anything suggesting the complexity or epic sweep of classic prog, is an accessible, song-oriented effort featuring 10 tracks with an average running time of 4 minutes. The folk overtones are not as evident as in the debut album by Positive Wave (a band with a similar musical direction), and always take a back seat to a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure. On the other hand, recent live recordings of the band reveal that the presence of a violinist lends a more definite folksy tone to their sound, which will probably come to the fore in their second album.
Like Tuvalu and Positive Wave, Hiidensointi sing in their native language – which is likely to be a turn-off for those who think that English is the only suitable medium for music – and are fronted by a female vocalist. Nina Hiironniemi (wife of drummer Mika), who is also responsible for the lyrics, possesses a confident, versatile voice (though not as impressive as Positive Wave’s Susan Karttunen) that avoids the cookie-cutter, saccharine sweetness plaguing many modern prog bands, and tackles the material with considerable assurance. Petri Koivistoinen replaces her in the plaintive “Suolla”, the one track with a clear-cut folk matrix – assisted by the subdued lilt of the kantele, or Finnish zither (the Finnish national instrument, an object of mythical proportions).
As a whole, and right from opening track “Koskella”, Hiidensointi comes across as remarkably catchy and upbeat, often dance-like – almost debunking the myth of the supposedly melancholy nature of Scandinavian music. The pervasive rumble of the organ, coupled with Petri Koivistoinen’s energetic guitar, inject an unmistakable classic hard rock vibe à la Deep Purple into tracks like “Isäton Poika” and “Kaihomieli”. Suffused with a gentle wistfulness, “Lintunen” showcases Nina Hiironniemi’s vocal dexterity in adopting a deeper, lower register to complement the instrumental mood, and alternating between singing and speaking in the final section of the song. Album closer “Virran Mukana” marks a distinct change of pace, with Pate Laitinen’s funky bass line beefed up by organ and guitar, reminding me a bit of Camel’s “Summer Lightning” with its hints at Seventies dance music.
Clocking in at a compact 41 minutes, Hiidensointi is a well-crafted debut by a talented band, with plenty of catchy hooks, pleasing melodies and excellent singing. However, it is also not very likely to impress those looking for a musical offer more firmly rooted in the Finnish folk tradition, in the style of an internationally renowned band like Värttinä. In my view, the album would have proved more interesting if it had pursued the route shown by “Suolla” (and hinted at by the mysterious, dark green hue of the artwork), and delved deeper into the fascinating treasure trove of Finnish folklore. Hopefully their forthcoming second album will take a more definite turn in that direction.