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16 Jul 2011

Review: Tuhkankantajat (MAA)

MAA
Tuhkankantajat
Anima Arctica, 2010

MAA is nothing less than a groundbreaking neofolk band and Tuhkankantajat is right on the leading edge of what neofolk as a genre can be capable of. These Finnish maestros threaten to make an awful lot of the contemporary post-industrial musical scene seem, well, soggy and tired.

Opening with an atmospheric electric piece, Tuhkankantajat then dives into its musical body, drawing together folk, classical, jazz, experimental, ambient, and noise influences with a quiet and organic perfection. Sometimes the fluency of the music becomes almost playful, as though MAA are revelling in the joy of their creative prowess.

Although built on a core of acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and pathos-laden vocals, MAA also use piano (which draws out some astounding melodies), chimes, strings, and various electrical devices. As such the musical palette is as once comfortable for anyone with a taste for folk or acoustic music…yet challenging and mind-expanding as well.

Each song invites us into a rich weave: introspective, sombre, edgy, emotionally complex. Mournful-wistful-joyous, weary elation, measured but indefatigable momentum. Aching beauty, inky and dark and heavy, yet dappled with sunlight like the earth in a primordial forest.

At times the album becomes depressive and sluggish; at times it becomes strident and even hinting at an epic scope, of wide-flung vistas. On the whole it reminds me of the emotional palette and intensity of Nick Cave, yet without feeling derivative of the great man at all – a rare achievement!

We see a turn into new territory and away from recognisable neofolk with the final track, “Toive,” a 12 minute epic of soundscaping and pure ineluctable emotion, a profound journey into deep realms. Seductive, menacing vocals and an Eastern flavour beckon us into an increasingly intense world of drones, noise, and distortion. Layers and layers of sound, awash in cavernous reverb, carry us away into a subterranean ocean, menacing and otherworldly.

The track reaches a climax of intensity before decomposing into mists and darkness and ghostly voices. A dramatic and haunting conclusion to the album.

Tuhkankantajat is darkness tempered with ecstasy; raw and sophisticated; deeply interior yet verging on the boundless. These Finnish masters have been quietly forging rich new possibilities for neofolk, and it seems to me only a matter of time for their influence to pervade widely.

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