Talk about being wrong-footed. This record may have been released on the niche Swedish label Nordvis and it may feature a snow-drenched, misty landscape on its cover but in all honesty, that is where any similarities with the form of atmospheric black metal one may have been expecting ends. This reviewer was anticipating seven tracks of frosty riiffing, rasped vocals and frantic drums laced with a sense of desolate, Scandinavian melody but the reality of ‘Tervehaat’ couldn’t be further from this.
No, the Finnish outfit specialise in a very sombre, almost abstract form of dark, minimalist neo-folk and an intriguing approach it is. So far removed from the traditional tenets of ‘band’-based music is it that there is perhaps more in common here with noise artists that lean towards the more ambient end of the spectrum (e.g. Raison d’etre) than there is with ‘classic’ neofolk exponents such as Of The Wand and Moon.
Tervahäät sets its stall out fairly early on the opening number – sinister drones wafting in the background as a sparsely-played banjo takes centre stage. Never my favourite instrument, the discordant plucking nevertheless adds to the ambiences being generated. The first lengthy piece then commences with ‘Otava’ – again, dark and minimal with low piano notes describing a doleful backing whilst a distant voice cries out. It’s reminiscent of some of Death in June’s earlier, more surrealist and challenging works (i.e. before the acoustic guitars became the focus), though Tervahäät give themselves longer to weave their atmospheres.
It’s only on ‘Kalankallo’ that a link to black metal of any kind can be discerned, the piece revolving around a singular droning distorted guitar – in all honesty though, it has as much in common with Earth as it does with Darkthrone. The second of the two lengthy songs here (‘Menneet’) then commences and in many ways, it is very much a companion piece to ‘Otava’ – doleful, reverb-soaked percussion, keening cries and low piano notes describing an eerie, cavernous and unsettling world that nonetheless starts to grate repetitively towards the end. There’s just not enough by way of development across its length and given it follows a very similar song template to its ‘sister’ track, feels a touch indulgent.
Some much needed melody is injected with the folky acoustic picking of ‘Joulukuu’ which is frustratingly only ninety seconds long. Proceedings are concluded with perhaps the strongest piece on here with ‘Lahdin’ weaving a haunting spell via the simple ingredients of a melancholic bowed contrabass and some surprisingly effective droning banjo notes. Again though, it’s over in less than three minutes and feels a bit unexplored.
Tervahäät is an interesting one all-in-all – it’s actually a remarkably short album (not much more than thirty minutes in length) and dedicating nearly half of the sonic real estate to two eerily similar songs smacks of an editorial misjudgement. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the Finn’s ability to generate a convincingly stark and cold ambience – like all the best stuff, this is undeniably convincing – and certainly, exploring the avenues hinted at on the album’s closer would be a good direction to go down. Ultimately though, this debut full-length just feels a touch under-developed to be a truly absorbing journey.
(6/10 Frank Allain)