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1 Sep 2011

Review: Self-titled (Tervahäät)

Tervahäät
Self-titled
Anima Arctica, 2009

Picture the silhouettes of pine and birch, thick and dark, reflected in lake water. The sun has fallen to the sky’s edge, and a chill breath hovers on the air. You stand, feet bare on the earth, staring at the way the water distorts the reflection of the forest…and yet in its distortion the water also reveals a layer of hitherto obscured truth. Condense this moment into 35-odd minutes of music and you have Finnish band Tervahäät’s self titled release.

This deeply introspective experimental folk group are all about stately vistas daubed in shadow and mystery. Their music – heavy, distorted, slow-moving, yet folky and organic – invites beautiful, if unsettling, synaesthesia. A waking dream, like the journey of Orpheus into the Underworld. It is raw and vulnerable; at once personal and yet eternal.

Tervahäät’s album is mostly instrumental, woven from overdriven bass, atmospheric guitars, piano, a strangely soothing banjo, and some very creative and eerie found/junk percussion. The elements are spread minimally on the sound canvas, like an Impressionist painting of a winter scene. Our imaginations are invited to fill the gaps, to wander into Tervahäät’s cold but exquisite realm of inner space.

The occasional singing and spoken word vocals are half-wild, like a wolf mourning a broken heart. The lyrics are in Finnish so I cannot comment on their content, but the vocals perfectly compliment the music, which feels at once abrasive and majestic; pastoral and raw. Set again the vocals are occasional naturalistic samples, which are tastefully utilized.

This is not happy music, yet to say that it is depressive would be false. It does not convey the ecstatic melancholy of good doom metal, nor the love-lorn personal touch of some folk music. Instead, t resides in its own little space of dark animism, intimate yet foreboding. Despite the weight of the music, its atmospheric riches make it just as suited for background listening as for intensive focusing – I always admire such multi-faceted music.

Tervahäät is highly recommended for fans of folk music, ambient music, doom metal (although I stress that is is not metal by any stretch), and lovers of nature in its colder incarnations. It is not for those who cannot tolerate darkness and depth – the shallow and easily satisfied should look elsewhere. This album is both dark forest and reflective waters, and invites us to find ourselves in surprising new ways and places.

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