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Man, what a disappointment this is. I hardly expected the second coming of The Spirit of Ukko, especially with the more and more streamlined approach Kiuas has been playing up recently, but this is just meager on all fronts. Even The New Dark Age had something akin to a sauna stove lit under it's proverbial ass, but the band has almost entirely dropped their eclectic songwriting nature and dialed back the intensity in nearly every conceivable aspect here.
Even the animated "Kiuassault" fails to live up to it's name on more than just a surface level, feeling like a forced throwback to appease what few fans of the heavier style still remain amongst the band's proponents. Other heavier tracks like "Aftermath" and "Cry Little Angel" are hampered by irritatingly stock riffing patterns that aren't far removed from the lukewarm fare spasmodically delivered by fellow Finns Norther on Circle Regenerated. In fact, that is exactly what Lustdriven sounds like at times, with even Tanskanen's normally-reliable keyboards existing as little more than window dressing, never embodying the tasteful counterpoint to Savolaara's unpredictable riffs that they truly want to be.
The only arguable trump card in Lustdriven's deck are the memorable choruses, which while still here in form, fall somewhat short in endearing function. Jalkanen's clean tones sound as great as ever, but many of the vocal lines sound forced and not well planned out. Once the relatively blistering opening of "Kiuassault" wraps up, the vocals come in and just sort of sputter away courtesy of their choppy delivery and thoughtless lyrics. I was never too keen on Jalkanen's dessicated death growls, but a lack of variety in his approach here would welcome any deviation to help break up the monotony. Lustdriven's more mainstream aesthetics forces the vocals to the forefront more than ever, but just like on all of Kiuas albums, the slower power ballads are never delivered with anything even approaching sincere conviction.
As such, the more mid-paced "Winter's Sting", "Summer's End", and "Lights Are Many" are all far too patience testing to really go anywhere of note. "Winter's Sting" features some nice twinkling piano lines on Tanskanen's part, but ends up being "Across the Snows" all over again, just half as convincing. I have no problem with the more bare-bones, unplugged vibe Kiuas is going for on these tracks, but it has never been one of their strengths. It doesn't even end there, as nearly all of the remaining songs are also far too subdued, with the interestingly titled "The Quickening" (Highlander, anybody?) falling prey to many of the same laziness-triggered pitfalls. It's all just way too safe and by the numbers for it's own good.
Even Lustdriven's production manages to chafe my eardrums, sounding way too flat and cleaned-up. Savolaara's few riffs of note are all hampered by a thin, crunchy guitar tone that diffuses far too much into the rest of the rhythm section. Jalkanen's vocals are the only aspect of the mix that manage to stand out, but through this the band manages to amplify many of their weaknesses while obfuscating their strengths. It is quite the paradox, and as such draws a clear picture as to why the band disbanded shortly after the release of Lustdriven.
It still has a few killer choruses like on "Cry Little Angel", but it is far too little, far too late on Kiuas' part. The fall from grace has been swift and cumulative, with each album introducing a bevy of new problems that the band was keen to steer clear of in the past. It's hard to believe that this is the same exact lineup that released The Spirit of Ukko, and while abandoning their metal roots is hardly a reason to sound the band's death knell on it's own, that is certainly what happened in Kiuas' case.
I was really looking forward to this one. I've always enjoyed Kiuas' brand of power metal spliced with just about every other metal sub-genre under the sun. They boast great energy and flair in their compositions and were never too scared to rip your face off. First impressions of Lustdriven were quite mixed, on the one hand it's pretty cool to see them fully embracing a prog/power type of sound but on the other I was pretty pissed they done off with the filth. However Kiuas are still heavier than a lot of the power metal bands out there, and Lustdriven is a really good album. Superb flow and composition feeling altogether more focused coupled with Ilja Jalkanen's excellent vocals is the name of the game here. Ilja sounds altogether better proving himself to be a fantastic vocalist.
Tracks such as "Cry Little Angel", "The Visionary" and "Heart and Will" are perfect examples of the overall sound of this album, massive power metal anthems with gargantuan choruses. Fans of the heavier side of Kiuas should be able to find enjoyment from tracks such as "Kiuassault" and "Aftermath" which are both insanely fun romps in the heavier side of power metal – guaranteed head-banging. As always Mikko Salovaara's guitar work is in top form, boasting some truly impressive licks and chops and let's not forget his superb acoustic work. Again as is always with the case with Kiuas the ballads are fantastic with the beautiful "Summers End" an entirely acoustic affair with great vocals. "Lights are Many" takes the semi-ballad approach with a quality mid-section entailing a moody piano piece coupled with distorted guitars and stellar rhythm work. Standout tracks for me would be the aforementioned tracks "Aftermath" and "The Visionary" as well as "The Quickening" which is one of the best tracks Kiuas have penned.
That said, this isn't without its flaws. As I said earlier they've cut out on the filthier side of their sound, gone are the blast beats, and gone are the death growls. Adding insult to injury there are numerous points through the album where the band tease you, progressing through musical passages where in the past they would have lynched us with some furious blasting – sadly they progression remains fruitless at these points on Lustdriven, normally leading back into a chorus. However the album is a big grower and after a while I got past the changes. Overall this is a solid album that fans of the band and genre should definitely look into – just don't expect The Spirit of Ukko round two. Recommended.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
Kiuas made waves a few years back with their debut full length “The Spirit Of Ukko”, which bent and broke a couple of the established rules of power metal orthodoxy. Since that time they’re notoriety has waned a bit because of a systematic abandonment of the composite style that made their first album so unique. While I’ve only noticed a moderate decline in their overall quality of output, the stylistic direction of this band has definitely shifted towards some more conventional. “Lustdriven” isn’t quite power metal by the numbers, by Finnish standards or any other, but there is definitely a consistent aim of this album, and it doesn’t include most of the extreme elements that were merged into their 2005 hit.
As best as can be assessed, this walks a straight line between a power/thrash album with a slight helping of symphonic ambiences and a prototypical Finnish outfit along the lines of Celesty. On one end, the keyboards and the somewhat more operatic vocal persona of Illja Jalkanen notwithstanding, this album could be liked to a couple of Swedish bands such as Rising Faith and Fierce Conviction. The riff work is loaded with pounding thrash elements, detailed with some slightly progressive fills along the edges, but really exerting a sense of tightness. The more blatant examples of this jump right out at the beginning in “Kiuassault” and “Cry Little Angel”, soaring with the majesty of Helloween, yet smashing the hammer of metal like a Bay Area band. Somewhat lesser examples come up in “Heart and Will” and “Aftermath” where the keyboard presence is heightened and the choruses are a bit more overpowering.
The album suffers only when it gets too bogged down in repetition and finds itself spinning in the usual formulaic wheel of Stratovarius. A quick listen to “Winter’s Sting” will reveal a band that almost wants to flirt with folk territory with all the acoustic breaks, but keeps falling back on a typical sounding chorus that is fun at first, but wears thin after repeated hearings. “The Quickening” is where this album takes a slight nosedive by all but leaving power metal territory for the crypto 80s rock sound that had sunken Twilightning a few years back. If nothing else, it can be plainly observed that this band largely suffers when they get too derivative, particularly because Illja’s vocals are a bit too rough for this line of smooth semi-balladry. Nonetheless, all of these songs are painted thoroughly with excellent musicianship and fancy guitar work that makes them enjoyable, though wanting in a few areas.
Although I wouldn’t say that this band is departing with its former self (given the exodus of Illja right after this) on a poor note, this is not quite the vicious machine that helped turn 2005 into a solid year for power metal, despite the failings of a lot of the older guard. Every good boat eventually runs out of steam, and though this band may have a lot more to say to us, this incarnation sounds fairly spent and perhaps a new face in the fold will liven things up a bit. Though the smart money would be spent on “The Spirit Of Ukko” and “Reformation” as far as this band goes, this is something that could fit in well with one’s collection at a slightly reduced price.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 28, 2011.
And so continues Kiuas’ descent into more and more generic song structures and influences. But where the last album was more like a heavy-handed fist to your ballsack, this one is kind of like a one night stand. It’s beautiful at first, with shimmering chords, sparkly choruses and a pristine production, but after a listen or two you just feel kind of dirty and empty listening to it, and soon enough you’ll forget even the catchier choruses and the hookier moments like they couldn’t wait to leave your head.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s about it. This album isn’t terrible – in fact it’s actually very pleasant to listen to, and the band has composed songs that are aesthetically pleasing as metal can get. But it just doesn’t stick with you, and the compositions don’t have much substance. I think part of it is the production, which is crystal clear but lacks any kind of punch or bite to the guitars, but it’s also just that the songs themselves are not really that captivating, with a lot of bravado but very little to keep you around for future listens.
“Kiuassault” starts things off with storming riffs and some gruffer vocals, but I’ll be damned to remember it after it ends, and that’s how too many songs here are. The catchier ones, like “The Quickening,” have pretty decent hooks but they lack momentum, and the compositions just end up repeating themselves for too long, driving the hooks straight into the ground. And that’s pretty much the only two modes of song you get on here, although “Aftermath” and “The Visionary” are pretty good songs.
Yeah. That really sums it up, more or less. Nothing else is really needed. This is one of those albums that sounded pretty good to me at first, but has lost momentum in my playlist with the speed of a rock thrown off the Grand Canyon ever since. Lustdriven is not a bad album, but it is emotionally retarded, and I can’t really muster up much of a response to the music here – it leaves me as cold as a Popsicle inside a wintry ice cream truck. Kiuas fans will eat this up but everyone else can sadly ignore it. Maybe next time, guys. Maybe next time.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com