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The Spirit of Ukko was a real spine-snapper of a debut, turning the traditional concept of Scandinavian power metal up on it's head and sprouting a dozen extra arms in the process in order to maneuver the countless disparate styles being utilized. The lack of adherence to any single songwriting avenue turned out to be Kiuas' trump card, and they certainly controlled the board more often than not. With classic riff-driven cookers like "On Winds of Death We Ride" coexisting habitually with atmospheric crooners like "Until We Reach the Shore", there was hardly a grey area where patience was tested. A mere year later the band rushed Reformation out of their vine-laden iron gates, and word amongst the trees is that it pales in comparison to it's mighty predecessor. So what the hell happened?
An argument can definitely be made that Kiuas simply had less time to write and refine the material for this, their sophomore release; certainly much less than the five years between the band's inception and the release of The Spirit of Ukko. Rushed or not, Reformation is still unmistakably Kiuas, featuring Salovaara's spastic riff delivery alongside Jalkanen's gritty tenor and the most endearingly Finnish rhythm section of all time. No, the biggest fault this time is centered around a lack of the marked eccentricity that made the debut such an enthralling listen. Despite maintaining a relatively tight grip around the listener's throat for the first three songs, the latter half of Reformation begins to lose the plot as the band haphazardly bangs out multiple rehashes of "No More Sleep for Me".
Had it been a different approach from the debut being emulated in earnest here, Reformation's aesthetics could be much more forgivable, but "No More Sleep for Me" was one of the more plodding, uneven cuts off of The Spirit of Ukko. As such, many of these songs are equally nebulous and meandering, delivering their pagan prosperity courtesy of a featureless mid-paced sonic palette that employs marked caution toward offending at any given juncture. It can be monumentally frustrating, as Kiuas proves that their chops are all present and accounted for, especially on the earlier barnburners like "Race with the Falcons" and "Through the Ice Age"; both of which rival "Warrior Soul" in frenetic appeal. Salovaara's riffs are at their incendiary best here, and he generously radiates surges of pinch harmonic-infused neck-jerkers very much in the style of Uwe Lulis from Grave Digger. His tone is sufficiently thick and full-bodied, and as always Kiuas is careful to maintain the riffs as their primary appeal.
Despite sounding like virtually every other Finnish keyboardist, Tanskanen certainly knows how to summon a great, chilly atmosphere with the snap of a finger The synths are prominent but they don't necessarily wear out their welcome, as particularly brazen moments like the keyboard solo on "Of Ancient Wounds" are few and far between. Tanskanen is relatively content to hover around in the background, serving as the human equivalent of a fake snow machine, adding a great Wintery atmosphere when needed and retreating into the shadows when not. Speaking of atmosphere, there is no shortage of such on Reformation. For some reason Kiuas streamlined their approach for the followup The New Dark Age, and something of value was certainly lost in the process.
Even with Jalkanen still barking his guts out as he maintains his standard from The Spirit of Ukko, the rest of Reformation can't help but accrue a little moss, as some of the latter tracks tend to stagnate more often than they should. Nothing here is downright offensive, but the title track and especially "Bleeding Strings" both embody excess fat gained during hibernation and are best sent packing. The choruses aren't as soaring I would like, and this grows from a minor quibble to a more marked complaint by the time the album reaches it's conclusion.
Reformation certainly has some teeth to it, as it embodies a rare power metal cross-section between the coherently riff-driven and the atmospheric. Even at that, everything this album does well, The Spirit of Ukko did better. To it's credit, it has aged quite nicely, since Kiuas continued to uncontrollably slide downhill afterward, eventually succumbing to the cold in 2013. Reformation is not a bad record, but seek out the debut first.
Following up superlative debut The Spirit Of Ukko was always going to be a mammoth task for Kiuas. After hearing TSOU, even I had my doubts that these guys could match the sheer power and energy of that album. Here we are though, with album number two from these guys, and upon first play all doubts went out the window. See what Kiuas do is what so many bands strive for these days, and that is to be able to have an entirely identifiable sound of their own, and that alone shows these guys deserve more recognition in the metal scene.
Drawing comparisons with debut TSOU there are some ever so slight changes in the sound. For one these guys have fine-tuned their sound, making everything sound very streamlined which is not a bad thing. However some of that wild energy that made their debut so exciting is lost in the process. The guitar tone is vastly superior on Reformation, and Mikko Salovaara's guitar work is simply stunning here, cementing himself as one of the more inventive players on the circuit today; Alexi Laiho to the back of the classroom. The band as a whole is very talented. Atte Tanskanen's keyboards are perfect as ever, not too high in the mix and never overpowering the sound - just enhancing it. Singer Ilja Jalkanen's awesome range and inimitable voice are as fantastic as ever, and the rhythm section of Teemu Tuominen and Markku Näreneva (bass and drums respectively) hold this raging beast together.
Assaulting the speakers, "Race With The Falcons" opens up the album in typical Kiuas fashion with a vicious melting pot of styles. Fasten your seatbelts because the album won't let up from this point onwards. You might recall me mentioning earlier that a little of their wild energy was lost from their debut? Well that's not to say these guys aren't fucking wild anymore. I guess the best way to describe the differences between Reformation and their debut is to say that whilst TSOU was a diamond, it suffered in places from a little too much going on,. With Reformation they've sorted that problem right out.
Standout tracks on offer here include "Through The Ice Age", Power Metal anthem "The New Chapter", the Children Of Bodom styling's of "Of Ancient Wounds", the smoking riffage of "Call Of The Horns" and my personal favorite track, "Black Winged Goddess", with its wild blast beats and crushing riffs. To be honest though there isn't really a bad track here and fans of TSOU will find hours of enjoyment. If you haven't heard these guys before, get their debut first and then buy Reformation - you won't be disappointed. Highly Recommended!
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
Sick of the same power metal bands? Clones like Freedom Call (Gamma Ray), Persuader (Blind Guardian) and the like? Enter Kiuas, the pagan warriors!
Kiuas, a young and original power metal band from Finland has made their second album. Now, what's going wrong? Yes, original, power and from Finland. Amazing, huh?
Kiuas is so different from bands like Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica... First the guitar. Kiuas has real power. It's very strong and crunchy. So much, it doesn't look like power, but thrash or death. In fact, Kiuas can't be described as only power metal. They have influences from almost any other metal genre. Mostly folk/viking. Some thrashy riffs there, blast beats here... "Black Winged Goddess", for example, has a black metal feeling on it. And the bonus track is a Jethro Tull cover that sounds like 100xheavier.
Oh, and the vocalist. Don't expect pitched vocals like in Sonata Arctica. The vocals are quite unique, at least for power. Rough, raspy and evil, yet still melodic. And he even knows how to growl too. Then, the keyboards. Instead of the gay soloing and trying to compete with the guitar, here keyboards are better used. They just add another layer on the music. I'd say they add the beauty in a so heavy music. Amazing.
Now, we knew all these from the debut, which is better. First, it's not so worse, even I recommend it first. But this is more different. It's like they try to evade more from typical power and add a special feeling to each song. Yes, they succeed. Why the lower score? Because they aren't so fresh and catchy, like some melodies are forced. No, their songs aren't bad, and there isn't any filler. But it's not the instant classic their debut is (at least for me). The first four tracks are their most catchy, and "Bleeding Strings" is their best ballad, maybe the best track on the album.
So, if you want some good and different power with real power, get this now (after the debut, of course).
Wow. Where to start? Their first effort, "The Sprit of Ukko," is a complete masterpiece. Kiuas is definitely one of those bands that comes around once every thousand years. Now why does such a one-in-a-thousand band feel so compelled to release an album that lacks as much inspiration as the first one reveled in?
I don't feel the need to break this review down song by song as all you have to do is listen to "The Spirit of Ukko," then remove all the devotion to truly energetic songwriting and delivery. Don't forget to also take away a good number of riffs and replace them with unnecessary keyboard retardation. This is what kills extended listening of this album for me.
Undoubtedly though, the best track in my opinion off of this album is Race With the Falcons. What can I say, it's the one song that might still, in any way, embody what Kiuas sought to do with the first album, expand upon it, and still maintain a certain level of sincerity. This song is quite armed and ready to strike.
Try to stay clear of Through the Ice Age though (unless you're a pretentious prog fabrication who loves to off-time shit because you like the stares). This song is a good representation of where Kiuas went wrong. Repetitious to the extreme with only enough riffs to keep the keyboards and monotone vocals from overpowering your sense of integrity.
Everything else is pretty much middle of the road in that it's nothing new, and not that creative (although there are some growls that can raise eyebrows). A good formula works for a long time. Look at 50 caliber rifles for an example. No sense in changing it up prematurely.
Overall, a 75/100 I give this album for not being bad, but not being that good. Come on Kiuas, you couldn't have burned all that creativity off in one go, get your shit together.
Don’t think, reading this review’s title, that this album has anything to do with the last Satyricon opus. Neither the album nor the band have anything to do with Satyricon actually, as for those who wouldn’t know Kiuas is a rather recent Finnish power metal band. After having heard their amazing debut The Spirit of Ukko I was eagerly waiting for their new album... and I didn’t know it would come out so quickly.
Almost too quickly, in fact. Barely one year has passed between the two releases, and something makes me think the band should have been better waiting a little more. Not that Reformation sounds utterly botched but, compared to the debut, it’s a bit too predictable. Structures have overall become much simpler, and even if saying every track sounds the same would be totally unfair, one can’t prevent himself from thinking the composer – guitarist Mikko Salovaara, if you want to know – has become a tad lazy. And he doesn’t seem to have spent much time on writing lyrics as well – honour the pagan gods and die in battle with a sword in your hand, you see what I mean – but it’s not a big deal.
Of course, very powerful tunes can be found here, like the opening Race with the Falcons, or Black Winged Goddess and its gentle acoustic intro (Child of Cimmeria), high-paced power metal anthems which even show a little touch of blastbeats and growls. And there is no really weak song, except maybe the obvious filler Heart of the Serpent. Even the indispensable ballad Bleeding Strings manages to sound beautiful and majestic, without excessive cheesiness. Indeed, that this album exhibits quality power metal, few people will deny it.
The problem is, it exhibits ONLY quality power metal. Some thrashy riffs, alongside a very scarce Viking touch, are pretty much the only alien (understand, non-PM) influences that remain. In comparison The Spirit of Ukko, while being of course mainly power metal, covered an impressive range of different musical styles, showing bits of hard-rock, Viking metal, 80’s metal and even black metal, often in the same track. It sometimes ended up sounding like a mess, but it at least combined in a unique fashion to create a genuine work of art. Now this album sounds fare more polished, and not necessarily in a good way. This bonfire of various influences was the main strength of the band, and by losing most of it the guys lost most of their originality.
Wait – there is more. Some progressive, neoclassical vibe which was already present on the first album, though being far from prominent there. Now it’s becoming more obvious, especially with extended arpeggios solos in the purest Yngwie Malmsteen or Michael Romeo fashion. Going alongside with punctual piano parts and occasional use of violins, as on the title track – genuine violins, not programmed orchestrations – all that makes the listener think Kiuas might now be willing to follow the path opened by Symphony X and their followers. To sum up, the best way to describe this work will actually be some kind of bastard son of Sonata Arctica, Symphony X and Ensiferum. Weird.
I won’t call it a bad album by any mean, and it’s still likely to please most power metal fans. It only sounds a bit easy, and doesn’t live up to the expectations opened by The Spirit of Ukko. Let’s just hope Kiuas will work a bit more on their following album and eventually reach their full potential. Because this band still has potential, for sure.
Highlights: Race with the Falcons, Through the Ice Age, Child of Cimmeria/Black Winged Goddess