Having grown up with – and generally having a soft spot for -Finnish rock/pop music (before AC/DC and Sabbath ripped my universe apart) this progressive occultish/poppy ensemble called Uhrijuhla (ludicrous official translation of The Wicker Man – actual meaning being closer to Sacrificial Feast) intrigued me… well, to the extent that I took this assignment, re-entering into this strange world of modern Finnish pop/rock. The melancholic, semi-depressive, approach on the few snippets I’d heard, had appealed, but it was a mystery if I could truly stomach a full-album. Would it be a Mana Mana kind of experience, where the soul of a mentally deranged genius creates a cyclone that devouring your very essence? Or like Juice Leskinen, whose darkened words stab through the heart akin a sharpened knife. Or would it be like the prog-gods Haikara, who conjured a rare unknown spirit to confuse and defuse? Or in fact just a poor-man’s Finnish copy of Massive Attack/ Portishead, whom they list as influences. (The latter definitely occurs first). One thing’s clear: The sort of occult rock that metal labels have been releasing in recent memory, it ain’t.
The line-up will be of interest to some, with male vocalist Janitor Muurinen having been a part of death-metal pioneers Xysma, after which he ventured into stoner projects. Guitarist Markus Myllykangas is member of proto-metal act Callisto. Besides of a varying extent of influence drawn from all of the above, Uhrijuhla set out do something of their own. Assorted ‘70s prog masters are an obvious inspiration, along with Hawkwindish moments scattered in. In general the music is mellow though, inviting the listener to come and float about in some sort of melancholic void. Similar to Dead Can Dance, Muurinen shares vocal duties with female singer Olga – switching between songs. The vocals are way too up front for my liking, but it’s not the end of the world (arriving next month, when the Mexican gods butcher us all).
Lyrics were penned by semi-legendary wordsmith Kauko Röyhkä, a promising piece of news. Then again, you’re only ever as good as your latest work and I must admit listening to this gibberish, made me feel as if watching some braindead reality TV show – soon trying to forget the Finnish language presto. (Especially the song ‘Kotona’ [at home], which goes on the lines of “It’s nice being at home, I wouldn’t want to be a drifter without my own home. Even the fox digs a hole in the ground to take care of its pups, must be instinct, I wouldn’t want to be a drifter, who doesn’t even tie his own shoelaces [last bit in there only for the sakes of the rhyme]). My biggest problem with this is the sheer over-simplicity in contrast to the music (thematically and structurally), in addition to its total incompatibility (especially Muurinen’s, whose voice is utterly unsuited for this sort of ordeal). It’s almost infuriating how potential’s sold short. To what extent this is all completely deliberate I’ll never know… maybe I’m just too dim to recognise the grand message at hand, but given the extent of my schooling in literature and poetry, I’d quite question that. Makes Eppu Normaali (Finland’s biggest rock/pop group) sound like philosophical prophets.
The reason I go into lyrics (not excluding singing patterns) to this extent is that they completely ruin this album for me. As mentioned, the vocals are on the upfront, that the childlike writing completely blocks out musical enjoyment, destroying all mystique and intrigue. To me, it comes across as if Röyhkä found some discarded documents under his sofa and faxed them right over. One really ends up wishing this was a purely instrumental album, for musically this is genuinely interesting and, at times, inspired. For the non-Finnish-speaking majority, this will hopefully not be such a monumental issue. Please feel free to add a point to the final mark.
End of the day, the Uhrijuhla experience leaves me quite cold. The impact just isn’t there. Sorry, just don’t get it. There’s, of course, that off chance that this is actually just downright clownshoes…
(6/10 Miika Virtanen)