Monday, April 19, 2010

Kiuas - The Spirit Of Ukko

*NOTE: originally written for*

Finnish power metal is a subject that seems to be generally stereotyped by more down and dirty metalheads as being fluffy, light, and that hand-grenade of a genre descriptor, “flowery”. This is an interesting release, because with one smashing debut album, Kiuas managed to play around with, AND shatter that stereotype.

Keyboards are ever-present here, bringing out the kind of wintery atmosphere characteristic of the Finnish scene in bands like Nightwish and Sonata Arctica. But they’re reinforced by enough riffs to slap any would-be dissenter across the face for days, accented by a sharp, blunt production job.

I disagree with certain people’s phrasing of Dragonforce as “extreme power metal”. They’re pretty stereotypical power metal in their melody structuring, albeit hopped up on that trademark speed that’s made them infamous (among other things). This album is a much purer representation of the idea of “extreme power metal”: it’s power metal, but with elements more characteristic with extreme metal such as tremolo-picked riffs, blastbeats that interplay with the riffs in such a way, and the occasional harsh singing backing Ilja Jalkanen’s already naturally rough lead vocal work.

For me, the highlight songs are those that play up on this unique, frosty blend of power metal and extreme metal: the title track is extraordinarily up-front with its extreme tendencies, yet in the same breath proudly boasts the strong melodies and memorable vocal lines more characteristic with power metal, while On Winds Of Death We Ride grapples with thrashy melodies that possess a sense of grandeur – I hesitate to use the oft-oversaturated term Epic, but there is a sense of it here. Warrior Soul is an exceptional display of performer dexterity melded with aggressive, yet supremely catchy and memorable writing.

The less furious songs are by no means bad, though – No More Sleep For Me delivers a haunting tale whose atmosphere draws you in and is a welcome break from the assault, while the soft breaks that occasionally enter into the heavier tracks not only deeply accent the frigid atmosphere, but don’t even feel out of place, instead complimenting the rest of the song.

The only thing holding this record back for me is that the second half doesn’t quite match up to the furious majesty of the first half. Even then, perhaps I just need to let it grow on me some more. None the less, this is a wonderful, unique album. A requisite for fans of Finnish metal.

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