Ideally, side-projects should be different from the full-time band that the main protagonist is known for, otherwise many would argue what’s the point, and Tuomas Halopainen from Nightwish has always been well aware of this. Whether it’s the classy turn-of-the-millennium Gothic Metal of For My Pain through to a blatant Disney soundtrack audition about a cartoon duck, he always pushes the boundaries when it comes to additional musical endeavours. Auri pitches itself nicely left-field of Nightwish – the only other Nightwish member utilized here is the fabulously talented multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, playing most of the non-keyboard instruments. The line-up is completed by Tuomas’s wife Johanna Kurkela doing an absolutely splendid job on vocals and viola.
It’s a good idea to expect the unexpected with Tuomas and Auri re-enforces that mindset. It isn’t Nightwish…and it isn’t really anyone, which is great. There’s rock influences obviously, plenty of folk, a little prog and some Kate Bush/Tori Amos pop at times too. The problem is, at times it doesn’t seem to really know what it wants to be, and sometimes can come across as a lot of good ideas jumbled together, with songs that don’t always work together as an album. Johanna is an excellent vocalist, possessing a fabulous tone and delivery that depending on the demands of the song pitches her somewhere between Liv Kristine and Candace Knight amongst others. Troy also excels at everything he plays – acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki, uilleann pipes, low whistles, aerophone, bodhran… he even does a nice vocal duet (‘Desert Flower’) and though his talents are of no surprise to those of us lucky enough to witness his first band You Slosh in the UK far-too-many years ago, it’s nice to hear echos of that folky Slosh-style re-emerging in tracks like ‘Them Thar Chanterelles’.
So that all sounds fine – what’s the problem I hear you ask? OK, I get that the album is supposed to be quirky and intentionally disjointed, it’s also supposed to deny categorization – also a commendable quality, it’s just I’ve played it quite a few times and it still leaves me as it did the first time I heard it – I was impressed, but a little unmoved and lacking a “way in”. Songs come and go, and there are some fabulous ideas and moments scattered throughout, all delivered with utter conviction whether it’s with full orchestration or stripped back to guitar/keys and vocals, but the whole thing sounds at times more like a film score than an album recorded by a band for the purpose of just being an album.
Tuomas and Troy are fantastic musicians and songwriters, both of which I am already a big fan of, and I am very impressed by Johanna’s voice and viola, which are utterly captivating, but with this talent at work I guess I was hoping for more. Maybe that’s the problem, as expectations are a dangerous thing where Tuomas is concerned, but I just wanted more from this album than it delivered. Don’t get me wrong, this album will totally click with many people, I’ve no doubt, and I really wanted to be one of those people, but at the end of the day I’m just one guy with one opinion. I still want to hear what this innovative project do next – these three people working together are too mouth-watering and classy a prospect not to – it’s just that this time it didn’t particularly work for me.
(7/10 Andy Barker)